The 163-vehicle order recently placed by Rotala is a big boost for Wrightbus.
The Ballymena manufacturer continues to reinvent itself following purchase by industrialist Jo Bamford and it has major plans for the coming two years.
At an event marking the order, Sales and Business Development Director John McLeister (pictured) paid tribute to Rotala for its patience as Wrightbus continues to recover from administration. “The order was placed by Rotala before we entered difficulties. It stuck with us,” he says.
As part of its rebirth, Wrightbus – the trading name of Bamford Bus Company – is engaging with fleet customers such as Rotala to build its future R&D programme around their needs. “Jo is listening to what customers and the market are telling him,” says John.
He explains that in the shorter term, the market has maintained buy-in to Wrightbus products since it emerged from administration. Wrightbus expects to deliver around 650 buses in 2020. 80% of its order target for the year is now accounted for.
In addition to Jo Bamford’s expertise, the appointment of Buta Atwal as Chief Executive and the arrival of staff with experience in manufacturing and procurement from JCB are contributing to change. Pertinently, work is well underway to rebuild relationships with suppliers.
In terms of its products, Wrightbus remains committed to the diesel StreetDeck and StreetLite. Bob Dunn says the 16 StreetDecks already in the DBNW fleet have delivered good fuel returns. But the manufacturer plans to devote its R&D spend to another avenue: Zero-emission.
Wrightbus will continue to develop its battery-electric offering, but it believes that the ultimate solution will be hydrogen fuel cell-electric – if the cost can be made comparable with that of a diesel.
Wrightbus promises that it can in time. But doing so is reliant on volumes.
Wrightbus has already welcomed the government’s decision to direct £5bn of funding to the bus industry.
It believes that money could play a major part in driving down the cost of hydrogen fuel cell-electric buses if it fosters large numbers of them. The partnership with Ryse Hydrogen, also owned by Jo Bamford, will further help that work.
“Hydrogen buses tick a lot of boxes. They drive like a diesel, operators refill them like a diesel, and they can stay in service all day like a diesel,” John says. “The pressure on customers to adapt to a different platform is eased somewhat with hydrogen.” But battery-electric also has a role to play.
In 2021, Wrightbus will unveils an all-new zero-emission platform. “In addition, we will offer a comprehensive turnkey solution, rather than just providing the buses,” says John. For hydrogen fuel cell-electric, that will be in collaboration with Ryse.